When the first settlers began to homestead, usually on choice water hole sites, it didn’t pose any real threat as they were entitled to use the land. But when the homesteader built fences and said, “This is mine”, misunderstandings did develop. One misunderstanding, now known as the Whitman Massacre, developed in the fall of 1847 Prior to the Massacre, fear had grown as more and more settlers homesteaded on Cayuse territory. The Cayuse had no resistance to the disease called measles, brought by the white settlers and it quickly spread among the tribes. When, in a brief period, half of the tribe had died from this new disease and the medicines of the Whitman Mission seemed to help the white children, but not the Indian children, the Cayuse began to believe that they were being poisoned to make way for the whites. The Whitman Mission was attacked and ceased to exist on November 19, 1847.
In May of 1855, over 5,000 Indian delegates from the Yakima, Nez Perce, Walla Walla, and Cayuse Tribes met with government officials at the old Yakima tribal council grounds, which is now the city of Walla Walla, to hold one of the most picturesque treaty sessions recorded in American Indian Affairs. From this council the Treaty of 1855 was drawn which designated the future relationship of these tribes with the Federal government and established the reservations now occupied by these tribes. The Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse were guaranteed a number of provisions as payment for the land they were to release for white settlement. Among these was the guarantee of 245,699 acres of land, some of which includes the present town-site of Pendleton, to be reserved for Indian use.
Presently there are 1,335 enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla
, approximately half of which reside within the boundaries of the Umatilla Reservation (which has been diminished through succession and approved land sales to its present size of 174,121 acres). As participating members of the Umatilla County community, their children can attend a local charter school or public schools and the adults work at the Wildhorse Casino, in community offices, mills, schools, shops, and on its ranches and farms.
The Happy Canyon pageant has become a part of the heritage of the host tribes. For the past 97 years of its performance they unpack their family heirlooms and set up their tepees, to appear at Happy Canyon and to unfold a glimpse of the past – the children following in the moccasined footsteps of their elders without rehearsal or advanced direction.
Tribal groups throughout the nation have representatives encamped during the week of Round-Up and Happy Canyon. Sizeable delegations from the tribes of the Yakima, Colville, Spokane, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Shoshone, Bannock, Warm Springs, Paiute, and Rock Creek participate in the events of the week.